Feeding Frenzy and the Passion of Movie Making
by Rüdiger Brandis
Feeding Frenzy definition: This phenomenon can be observed when predators are overwhelmed by the amount of prey available. Do you know this feeling? I know I can relate to it: The knowledge that there are so many things to do out there, so many movies to watch, games to play, books to read that I don’t know what to do first. And then there is this shallow feeling afterwards when you notice you ate too much. You were too greedy and stuffed it all in, and now you feel sick and can’t really remember what you put in your mouth. And the stuff is still coming, but it looks all the same: colorful indeed, in little pieces so you don’t choke, but it is still too much. That’s how I feel about movies lately. It seems I have seen enough. But no form of satisfaction was left behind, except for this hollow feeling that something in me was slowly dying.
So I started thinking: What was it again that made me fall in love with this medium in the first place? What was this magic that drew me toward it and why is this feeling gone now?
And then I discovered “Feeding Frenzy”.
In “Feeding Frenzy”, underdog Jessie (Ron Lipski) works in a little hardwarestore run by the shady old man Mr. Plinckett (Rich Evans), who keeps him under his thumb by threatening to reveal Jessies terrible secret to the public. At home his roommate Martin (Jay Bauman) has one heart attack after another. And his highschool love Christine (Gillian Bellinger) doesn’t even take him seriously as a human being. As if that wouldn’t be depressing enough, one day he discovers that Mr. Plinckett hides bloodthirsty little creatures in his basement. When they escape they start hunting down every visitor and employee of the hardware store. Only Jessie can save the little town now, because nobody else seems to give a fuck.
I can really picture your faces right now if you didn’t hear of this film before. They are asking two questions: 1) “What the fuck?” and 2) “How will he tear this movie apart?”
I can understand the first question, I asked it myself when I first heard of this plot. But to the second one I have to say: I really loved this movie. No, not enjoyed, or liked, I loved this movie. But to properly explain why, I have to go a little bit afield first.
The movie was made by the Milwaukee based company “Red Letter Media” back in 2010. It was written by Mike Stoklasa and directed by him and Jay Bauman. You might have heard of these guys in form of the popular reviews of the Star Wars prequels mostly made by Mike Stoklasa featuring a crazy old man, Mr. Plinckett (another Plinckett of sorts), going on and on about how wrong everything is in the prequels, while torturing a poor woman in his basement. They are also known for their review show “Half in the Bag”. My first contact with them was through these reviews. Back in 2009 somebody showed me one of their videos at a boring party. The next day, I went watching the whole thing and from this moment on I was hooked, awaiting every new video of the guys. However, I never touched their feature films for some reason. Maybe I thought their wacky semiprofessional style of acting would ruin the fun for me in a whole 90 minute film, I can’t remember.
But I really connected to their style of reviewing and talking about movies, not just because it is hilariously funny, but because they are always talking as filmmakers as well as members of the audience. This gives you a really good perspective on why a movie does or does not work, both story wise and visually. As a struggling filmmaker myself, I could really relate to this. They argue from a technical perspective and explain how movies work through this and not just through high profile commentaries on subplots and art history. But let’s move on to the actual movie, shall we?
“They even ate his fucking face”
The reason why “Feeding Frenzy” is such a lovely movie lays in the details not the overall picture. The movie is a spoof movie which pokes fun at the popular 1980s creature movies such as “Gremlins”, “Critters”, “Ghoulies” or “Hobgoblins” and others. The theme of these movies is the same: Somehow strange creatures begin to attack humans and the hero has to fight them off. In “Feeding Frenzy” Jessie is our hero and he seems to be the typical underdog character. Nobody respects him and everybody steps on him, but then he gets the chance to prove himself. While other movies would continue with a typical story arch (usually by presenting the hero with different challenges until the final redemption), “Feeding Frenzy” just laughs at this classic story design at every possible moment. Whatever Jessie tries, his companions take nothing seriously and drive him crazy. His co-worker Carl doesn’t give a shit anyway and at one point just disappears, while nobody knows if he got himself killed or just took off to get a drink. And Christine just mocks his incompetence through the whole movie over and over again. In this regard, “Feeding Frenzy” is a satirical reversal of the usual hero story and thankfully doesn’t just rely on stringing together unrelated scene after scene, which can be funny on its own regard but has not much to do with telling a story. In this film, every scene defines one of the strange characters more and even minor characters get enough screen time so we actually care when somebody gets killed by the monsters … but still laugh of course.
The only thing that gets a little annoying are some scenes which are dragged out over an expanded span of time while they get the point across in the first seconds. One especially is a seemingly endless pillow fight between some minor characters which just serves the purpose of explaining how the creatures could get to one of them. While the whole scene is supposed to be funny, which it is at first, the sheer length of it just made me role my eyes and wait for the end. As you can expect the performances of the actors are at times a little bit clunky and most of the time over the top. However, this style fits in the overall theme of the movie and doesn’t affect the movie in a negative way. I was even surprised by some performances: Lead Gillian Bellinger in her role of Christine does a pretty good job and never comes across unnatural. I just believed her as far as this is possible in a movie that is about poking fun at other movies about ravaging little creatures. All in all, “Feeding Frenzy” is a funny spoof movie which doesn’t rely on references to its sources but is a whole creative concept on its own.
“My love is hot”
We all know that story is important to make a movie interesting. That’s why nobody likes the Green Lantern movie. Because its story sucked (and a bunch of other stuff too). But movies are as much a story-telling art as they are a visual and sound art and for a lot of little low-budget movies this is a very big problem, though sometimes they try to make a style out of it. “Feeding Frenzy” does exactly that, but doesn’t really need to. The cinematography is classic and effective. You always know where the people are and can follow their movements. I was also impressed by the lighting. Especially the scenes in the hardware store look very natural. Only the scenes shot outside sometimes have a very hard light. But over all, it is impressive that there are no notable continuity errors and the film just flows visually. I never had the feeling to get thrown out of the story by some weird shot or bad timed editing. There are even some references for lovers of “Feeding Frenzy”’s origins to find, which are very well integrated into the film and story. For example: When Jessie and Christine at first discover the creatures, they get chased down a corridor by them. We see them flee in a low angle position while the heads of the creatures pop in and out of the screen: a salute to the classic chase scene at the end of “Gremlins” in the cinema.
About the sound, I can’t even say that you notice the low-budget production. Everything sounds natural and fits right into the scene. The same goes for the soundtrack and used songs. Most of the time the music is subtle in the background and creates the ambiance of the hardware store, but especially in the more dramatic scenes the music raises the tension and works right along the visuals and the plot. My favorite part however is Jessies pathetic attempt to win Christine over in a leather jacket and a big boom box on his shoulders singing out of tune to the song “Our love is in love” by Jack Packard. This song evokes so much nostalgia and irony, you are lucky if you aren’t choking from too much laughter.
But when it comes to the design of some of the sets, the props and the special effects, “Feeding Frenzy” officially doesn’t take itself serious anymore. Here the filmmakers go off the rails to deliver the expected trash you want to see in a low-budget spoof movie and they succeeded. Especially at the end they present very creative sets which could have come directly out of an 80s Sci-Fi movie including the special effects in form of cheesy looking lightning bolts. Some of them are deliberately crappy, but their design stays consistent and the very good filming makes the most of it. But the high point of the whole movie design are the creatures themselves. Their design is very simple. They are basically little brown balls with a lot of sharp teeth in a big blood stained mouth. They jump to move and in some scenes you can clearly see that they got thrown into the shot. But what I liked the most was the sound they made. It was like a mix of squeaking and growling. That and their erratic movements made them just fun to watch. You could see with how much care director Jay Bauman designed these little rubber monsters.
So in the end …
“Feeding Frenzy” is a very well executed little spoof movie, which will keep you laughing nearly throughout the whole time. You can see that everything was made by people who knew what they were doing. And the gap between this fact and the not existing budget makes “Feeding Frenzy” a piece of art. In the end, it helped me to remember what I loved so much about movies: It was not only the brilliance of a script, not the pathos of an orchestral soundtrack that drew me in. It was this simple feeling of love, the knowledge that the filmmakers really wanted to make this thing, and even if it didn’t turn out quite as expected, they still put all their heart into the project. If you are just watching these big Hollywood or other shiny high-profile productions from all around the world you can sometimes forget that there are people, real people, behind the cameras and the sets that put all their heart into it and are not just motivated by a contract and a big pay check. “Feeding Frenzy” is not a perfect movie, it is not even all that original. But is is funny and smart and doesn’t hide its origins. To watch “Feeding Frenzy” is to experience what the passion of movie making can create and is all about: Love.
If you are excited to watch the movie now (as you should be), you can buy it directly at the RedLetterMedia store here.